I recently did the below Q&A with Casper Magazine on self-sabotage. They asked about what drives self-sabotaging behaviour, the different ways it manifests and what to do to move into a more supportive and sage mindset. If you haven’t already, take the saboteur assessment linked below to gain more of an understanding of your own self-sabotaging tendencies!

What drives our self-sabotaging behaviour?

Self sabotaging behaviour develops in our childhood as a means of protecting ourselves from perceived threats in our environment. For example, if you had a father with a temper growing up, you may have learnt how to make yourself small and appease him in order to protect yourself. As an adult, this would show up as a people pleasing tendency – a method to gain acceptance by helping, pleasing, or rescuing others. 

These self-protection mechanisms are driven by core beliefs – like, ‘I’m only of value when I’m achieving’ – that we create from our early experiences. Over time, they become strong neural pathways that generate automatic thoughts, feelings and behaviours that don’t serve us.

Why is it crucial to acknowledge our self-sabotaging behaviour?

As adults, these self-protection mechanisms we developed as children hinder our wellbeing, performance and relationships. When we sabotage ourselves we are giving over to a habitual mind pattern that undermines our authentic self and best interests. 

The main ‘saboteur’ (a term coined by the leading researcher in this field, Shirzad Carmine) that we all have is the ‘judge’. The voice that is undercutting us, other people and circumstances by finding fault everywhere. The judge comes from our predisposition for negative bias which is an evolutionary function we developed thousand of years ago to help us survive in the wild. Our ancestors became acutely attuned to pick up on and react to all the possible threats around them to keep themselves safe. As modern day humans, this negative bias leads us to put a much stronger emphasis on the negative rather than the positive which often leads us into a cycle of rumination and anxiety.

How can we initiate meaningful change?

It takes awareness and repetitive action to reduce the strength of the self-sabotaging neural pathways and strengthen the replacement pathways that create a supportive and sage state of mind. To weaken our saboteurs we first have to be aware of when they show up. Building a regular practice of self observation by checking in on what you are feeling, thinking and doing through the day is key. The more light you can shine on your thoughts, emotions and default behaviours, the less power they have over you and the more able you are to change the cycle when you move into self-sabotage.

When you are aware that you’re in self-sabotage mode, you want to stop the circuit by using a self-regulation technique. Try honing in on your breath or on one or more of your senses and focusing intently on what you see, hear, touch, smell or taste. This shift in focus works to short-circuit the automatic sabotaging pathway. From there you can focus on redirecting your mindset from a self-sabotaging one to a sage one. Remind yourself of where the self-sabotage comes from and that it isn’t serving you. Replace its core limiting beliefs with empowering ones. And finally, ask yourself activating, thoughtful questions such as ‘what do I need?’ or ‘what is most important?’ to put yourself in a creative, empowering headspace. 

What are the prevalent self-sabotaging behaviours?

From his research, Shirzad Charmine has found there to be nine different ways in which we self-sabotage, I’ve listed some short descriptions below! We don’t all sabotage ourselves in all nine ways, there will likely be two or three you resonate with the most. I often give his saboteur assessment to my clients – it’s a good way to understand your specific self-sabotaging behaviours so that you can best practise the techniques of moving into a sage mindset that fuels holistic wellbeing, meaningful performance and positive relationships. 


The Avoider focuses on the positive and the pleasant in an extreme way. It causes you to avoid difficult and unpleasant tasks leading to procrastination and conflict avoidance. 


The Controller runs on an anxiety-based need to take charge, control situations, and bend people’s actions to their own will. It generates high anxiety and impatience when that is not possible. While the Controller allows you to get short-term results, in the long run it generates resentment in others and prevents them from exercising and developing their own fullest capabilities.


The Hyper-Achiever is dependent on constant performance and achievement for self-respect and self-validation. It causes you to focus mainly on external success rather than on internal criteria for happiness. It often leads to unsustainable workaholic tendencies and falling out of touch with deeper emotional and relationship needs. 


The Hyper-Rational involves an intense and exclusive focus on the rational processing of everything, including relationships. It causes you to often be impatient with other people’s emotions and regards emotions as unworthy of much time or consideration. It limits your depth and flexibility in relationships at work or in your personal life and intimidates less analytically minded people. 


The Hyper-Vigilant feels intense and continuous anxiety about all the surrounding dangers surrounding and what could go wrong. It causes you to be constantly vigilant and feel like you can never rest. It results in a great deal of ongoing stress that wears you and others down.


The Pleaser is looking to  gain acceptance and affection by helping, pleasing, rescuing, or flattering others. It causes you to lose sight of your own needs and possibly to become resentful of others as a result. It also encourages others to become overly dependent on you.


The Restless is constantly in search of greater excitement in the next activity or through perpetual busyness. It doesn’t allow you to feel much peace or contentment with your current activity. It gives you a never ending stream of distractions that make you lose your focus on the things and relationships that truly matter. Other people have a difficult time keeping up with the person ruled by The Restless and often feel distanced from him or her. 


The Stickler is the need for perfection, order, and organisation taken too far. It makes you and others around you anxious and uptight. It saps your own or others’ energy on extra measures of perfection that are not necessary. It also causes you to live in constant frustration with yourself and others over things not being perfect enough. 


The Victim wants you to feel emotional and temperamental as a way of gaining attention and affection. It results in an extreme focus on internal feelings, particularly painful ones, and can often result in a martyr streak. The consequences are that you waste your mental and emotional energy, and others feel frustrated, helpless, or guilty that they can never make you happy for long.